Ontario elementary teachers to start work-to-rule campaign Nov. 26

TORONTO — Ontario's elementary teachers will start a work-to-rule campaign on Nov. 26 that they say will not affect students, but is just the first phase in potentially escalating job action.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says their action will target ministry and school board administrative tasks. Members are being told not to complete Term 1 report cards, not to participate in any professional learning from their school board or the ministry outside of school hours, and not to do any online training by the ministry.

Teachers are also being told not to take part in any school board activities on professional activity (PA) days and not to respond to any emails from administrators outside of school hours, except if it is about safety, support for students with special needs or for a supply teacher to accept a job.

ETFO said its job action will be incremental, and the work-to-rule will continue either until the union deems it necessary to ramp up the strike or a new contract is reached.

"This government has left us with no choice but to move to the next step, which is implementing a work-to-rule Nov. 26," union president Sam Hammond said Thursday.

"Very little has changed since we started bargaining. Little has changed since our strike vote was announced. We need this government to get serious."

Education Minister Lecce said he is working to ensure students stay in the classroom.

"It is disappointing that ETFO has decided to escalate to a partial withdrawal of services, which hurts our kids, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table," he said in a statement.

Hammond said the key issues are more supports for students with special needs, addressing violence in schools and preserving full-day kindergarten.

After the previous education minister, who was ultimately demoted, opened the door to changes to the program, the government later committed to "full-day learning" — phrasing that doesn't ease the union's fears.

But Lecce has said that contrary to how all of the province's education unions are framing the talks, compensation is a major issue. They are looking for roughly two per cent wage increases, the minister has said, but the government just passed legislation limiting raises for all public sector workers to one per cent per year for three years.

The unions have said they are preparing a court challenge, saying the law infringes their right to collectively bargain. 

Three of the four major teachers' unions, including the elementary teachers, are taking steps toward potential strikes as they negotiate with the government for new contracts, after the previous ones expired Aug. 31.

Elementary teachers will be in a legal strike position on Nov. 25, and high school teachers will be in a legal strike position next week, although they haven't yet submitted the required five-day strike notice.

Catholic teachers have voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike but aren't yet in a legal strike position, while talks between the government and French teachers continue.

Negotiations between the province and the education unions started on tense terms a few months ago amid government moves to increase class sizes, and the recent wage cap bill has further angered teachers.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the government could easily remedy the situation by investing more in education.

"They know exactly what to do," she said. "They have to reverse their cuts to education. They set a terrible tone in these negotiations from Day 1 and they need to fix this situation now."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2019.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press